A-One-A and A-Two-A
Bud Fleming was dynamite on the bandstand . . . But when Janice set his heart on fire it was Harriet who exploded
You NEVER know in the band business. Bud Fleming—remember Bud Fleming?—He could tell you that. Bud started out as a hand leader
with a five-piece combo down in eastern Ontario. He went to New York, shot right to the top playing at the Morrison, and now he’s back where he started from. All in three years’ time. You never know in the band business.
It was a rainy night in Mapleville, Ont., but business was holding up nicely at Pop Warren’s Cafe, the only really good dine-and-dance spot in town. Had you asked the good-looking young gent standing up in fçont with the clarinet why business was braving the weather so well, he would simply have pointed his licorice stick in the direction of the big bass drum, on whose surface appeared the legend, “Bud Fleming and His Swingeroos,”
Most of the faces on the dance floor and at the
tables were familiar ones —in a town of this size you didn’t get many strange ones at a dineand-dance spot — and Bud acknowledged the presence of these familiar faces with a nod and a flash of his cocky but likable grin.
One face, however, was definitely new to Pop
Warren’s, and it was a standout, too. It was young and pretty, but an oddly intent and businesslike expression, that looked habitual, made it more mature than it should have been so early. She looked lonely but self-contained, as though she had long been accustomed to loneliness and had accepted it as part of her lot—it was definitely the loneliness of prominence. She was somebody, though Bud couldn’t quite place her. Certainly she didn’t look like Mapleville, as she sat severely alone at a table in a corner. Her clothes and her manner were definitely metropolitan.
Whenever he was in front of the band Bud’s eyes were always on the move, checking up on how his music was going over with everyone in the crowd, so he was aware that she had been listening with great concentration for better than an hour. That concentration might have been flattering, except for the fact that her expressionless face gave no hint as to whether she was enjoying the Swingeroos’ kicks or not. Her gaze was as impassive and as unswerving as a rival orchestra leader’s. In time it began to be uncomfortable.
The boys beat out a medley of Gershwin tunes, with special arrangements by Bud and vocals by Bud. And then, to top himself, Bud put on a funny hat and murdered the crowd with a comedy number lyrics by Bud. He played toward the strange girl, giving it everything—but she gave it nothing. As he put the hat back on the piano he was annoyed. Imagine— knocking himself out for a sourpuss. The girls always screamed at his stuff. No wonder this one was alone.
He bent down and spoke quietly into the ear of Pete Higgins, whose fingers were busily knitting a little boogie on the keys to back up Rod Catlett’s trumpet on a ride chorus.
“Cast your glance over toward ...”
“I’m way ahead of you,” said Pete promptly. “Gorgeous, but strictly got that hands-off look. I’d stay away if I were you. You got big ears, and they stand out when they’re red.”
“Where have I seen her before, I wonder? Does her face ring a bell with you?”
Bud frowned thoughtfully.
“Take over for a minute,” he said, and slid down off the stand.
“You’ll be sor-ry,” Pete sang out after him.
Bud squared his shoulders, shot his cuffs under the robin’s-egg-blue mail-order sports jacket that was part of his orchestra leader costume, and worked his way around the edge of the floor to the girl’s table. As he approached she looked up with a candid, impersonal glance that made him blink his eyes and discover that for once he couldn’t seem to summon up the old personality smile. Despite the fact that she was not over 25 herself, she suddenly made him feel like a small boy. Pete was right. But there was no turning back now, so he gulped and went through
with it. He bowed stiffly.
“Evening. I noticed you were alone. How about joining the party?” he asked, jerking his head toward the dance floor.
“Sit down,”she said, in a voice that was as businesslike as the Department of Internal Revenue. “I’m glad you came over because I was about to
ask you to join me anyway.”
Bud’s eyebrows furrowed up half the distance to his sandy crop of unruly hair. He didn’t get her at all. “You were?” he said.
“Yes. I want to talk to you. Sit down,” she repeated, and he sank slowly into a chair.
“How long are you tied up here?” she asked. “Are you on a week to week, or under contract?”
THAI’ was all Bud needed to put together the jigsaw puzzle. Harriet Hyde! What a dope he had been not to recognize her right away. He had just read about her the week before in Down Beat. The girl wonder of the hotel business—every bandsman had heard of Harriet Hyde and the way she had skyrocketed unknown dance bands to fame at the hotels her father left her. He knew from what he had read that she was on her way to Vancouver on a holiday—therefore she must have stopped off in Mapleville especially to hear him and the boys! Bud’s heart began to beat out a solid four, and the old personality grin got into the groove again.
“Say! You’re Harriet Hyde, aren’t you? I read about you in Down Beat. Say, it’s swell of you to stop off to catch us. Where’d you hear about us?” The words poured out of him in a torrent. “I always thought ...”
“I never heard of you before,” she said flatly. The torrent dried up as his jaw sagged. “I’m only here by accident—our plane was grounded and I have to kill a few hours till I can get a train. Well? How do you stand here?”
Bud pulled himself together again. He was never subdued for long.
“Well, Pop—Pop Warren, that is—he’d like me to stay forever, because business has never been so good. The people love me,” Bud declared modestly. “But Pop and I have sort of a mutual understanding, and I could close here any time I wanted to.” He paused. “Course I’d like to give Pop a little notice.
After all he’s been pretty nice to us. Look, I’ll talk to him about it now—I’ll bring him over . . .”
“Wait a minute.” She held up her hand and motioned him firmly back into his seat. She chuckled quietly. “Don’t hand in your notice yet. There’s a few little details we haven’t taken care of. What are you making here?”
“The scale,” he said, adding quickly, “and no kickbacks. And then we get dinners.”
“I’ll give you the New York minimum scale, and you can follow Sonny Barton into the Morrison.” Bud’s head went into a spin. He didn’t hesitate a minute. In the first place New York’s minimum was twice what he was making, but that wasn’t the point. What counted was the general buildup—a network wire, stage shows, records, one-night stands, Holly-
wood deals—all of which smelled of big money. Of course, she signed you for a long-term contract to play at her hotels for the minimum—that was where she was smart—but even so it was worth it. A lot of the top bands had played for Harriet Hyde at the minimum, and look where they were.
“Well, I hope Mapleville doesn’t miss me too much,” he said, trying to hold down the excitement in his voice.
“Give two weeks’ notice here, and be ready to bring your boys to New York.”
“I’ll need a few more men, won’t I?”
“Never mind.” Her tone ruled out local talent.
“My contractor will take care of that in New York.” “Oh. Well, I’ll be very busy the next two weeks putting together some new augmented arrangements.” Once more Bud gained momentum. “Now I can really work out some terrific ideas I have ...”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about, arrangements if I were you.” Again she quietly deflated him. “Charley Reiser will take care of that.”
“Oh. Charley Reiser.” Even Bud gulped and was silent when faced with the name of Reiser. Once again, however, he picked himself up off the canvas. “Well, anyway, I can ...”
“You won’t sing, either.”
Bud was stopped again. He felt, like a knot that had been securely tied. Then her eyes softened.
“Do you still want to go to New York?”
“Oh, sure. But ...”
“Look, I’m not buying arrangements and songs. I can get all those. What I’m interested in Ls your style. What I want to do is to build and exploit your personality—that’s what you have that money can’t buy.”
His drooping spirits perked up a little then; his vanity stopped licking its wounds.
“Everything will be all right if you’ll just put yourself in my hands,” she said.
“Well, they’re nice hands.” He rose. “Gee, wait’ll I tell the boys you’re here! If you hear clinkers, then, you’ll excuse them, won’t you?”
“Just a minute.”
Bud stopped in his tracks, surprised, as she suddenly smiled.
“Before the clinkers start,” she said, “what about that dance?”
“Oh! Oh, that dance! Sure!” Bud laughed. “Yeh, that’s what I came over for! Sure, let’s dance!”
The number was just right—a slow, dreamy treatment of “Sleepy Lagoon.” Harriet was light in his arms, her rhythm was perfect, and the perfume of her hair as it brushed across his cheek was not what he would have expected from the shrewd and hard-boiled operator he knew her to be. If he hadn’t known she was Harriet Hyde he might have enjoyed the dance more, and kept a less respectful distance between them.
They circled the floor silently a couple of times, and then she asked, “What are you thinking about so hard?”
She chuckled as Bud blurted out his most recent thought:
“That minimum scale—does it include dinners?”
STANDING on the bandstand in the Morrison’s Rose Room, Bud Fleming did not look much different than he had a year before in Pop Warren’s Cafe. There were more men behind him; they were better groomed and his own coat was better cut, but it was pretty much the same band—minus the smalltown shenanigans, and plus a year’s buildup by Harriet Hyde. She hnd done it again.
Janice Wynn gave the final fillip to her expert rendition of the current wow, “The Three Little Sisters,” and, as she stepped back and prettily acknowledged the applause, Bud spoke to her approvingly.
“Very solid, baby. The customers like you. You’ll be a great hit here.”
Janice tossed him a long-lashed sideways glance
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that dripped with allure and made Pete Higgins, observing it from the piano, purse his lips and shake his head slowly as he looked back down at the keyboard.
“Hey, Bud.” Rod Catlett picked up a sheaf of music from under his chair. “How’s about running through this arrangement Charley Reiser sent over? It’s a new number he likes.”
Bud took the sheaf and picked out the piano copy.
“H’m.” He flipped through the pages. “Looks good. Let’s run it over.” He handed out the parts, gave it the and-a-one-a-and-a-two-a, and after they had taken one-and-one—a verse and a chorus—turned the boys loose on it and let them play with it. Dancing stopped as the couples on the floor gathered around to watch the fun. The whole performance was typical of the Bud Fleming jam-session technique, and the crowd ate it up. Janice stepped in for an impromptu fast chorus, and that went big, too. When it was over the crowd whooped for more. Bud, dishevelled but delighted, shook his head at Rod and grinned.
“Boy, this Ls a lulu. We’ve got to wax thLs. Remind me to call Jack at Decea tomorrow.”
Mario, the head waiter, ambled up to the bandstand and passed along a message in his quiet, dignified French accent.
“Miss Hyde would like to zee you in her office, Mr. Fleming.”
“Oh, is she back?” said Bud eagerly. “Yes, she just got in.”
“Swell. Take over, Pete.”
“Don’t forget, we’re on the air in half an hour.”
“I’ll be back.”
BUD was always glad when Harriet got back from her frequent business trips. There was a strange emptiness about the Morrison when she wasn’t around, and he never seemed to get the bang out of hLs work that he did when she was there.
He had never known a girl like Harriet before. With other girls you either weren’t interested, or you liked them. With Harriet it was different. He often wished he could feel like kissing her, just to let her know he thought she was okay—but it just didn’t work that way. It wasn’t merely that she was The Boss; it was something more than that. On the few occasions when they had gone out together, after the Rose Room had closed, he had felt as though he were out with a pretty comptometer. She appeared to Like his company, and sometimes for a fleeting instant seemed to give him the go-ahead signal but the next minute she would be talking business. And every time when he left her at the door of her suite the conversation seemed to be dealing with what should be done on tomorrow’s broadcast or recording date. You couldn’t kiss a girl when her mind was on what to expect from a waxing of “Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar.’’ Usually when they first saw each other after she had been away something warm sprang into her eyes, something that reached out to him in that first moment, but was as evanescent as morning mist, and was gone as quickly as it had come, hidden behind that businesslike reserve that so jealously guarded her private feelings.
When he walked into her office this
time, though, she was sitting stiffly behind her desk, and her expression was grim. The storm signals were out. Bud forgot about the customary little wisecrack that had been on hLs lips, and waited for her to speak. He didn’t have to wait long.
“What’s that girl doing on the bandstand?” she snapped.
“Why? You don’t like her? Why, she’s—”
“Get rid of her.”
“What do you mean, get rid of her?” Bud stared with genuine astonishment. “After what she did out there tonight? Why, the crowd went wild about her. Gee, Harriet, every band leader in town was after her, and I got her. It was a great break...”
“Get rid of her.” Harriet’s voice trembled with anger.
“Now, wait, Harriet.” Bud spread his hands in an appeal. “Think it over. You know all the angles, but this is one time when you’re off the beam. Honest, she’s going to bring them flocking in!”
“I brought you here to bring them flocking in—we don’t need a cheap little hussy who’s already put two orchestra leaders in moth balls. She’s a trouble-maker.”
“Now, wait, maybe you’re being unfair...”
“I’m not being unfair. I know all about her. She’s been offered to me by every agent on Broadway, but I wouldn’t touch her. Remember, this is the Morrison Hotel.”
“Well, I think I can handle her.”
“Yes—so did Buck Mardon, and look where he Ls today. Between D.T.’s he’s selling clarinet reeds—and he was a fine musician. So get rid of her.”
“But, listen, Harriet, I gave her a contract.” Bud’s tone showed that his temper was beginning to fray at the edges. “I thought that...”
“Oh, you gave her a contract!” Every syllable was a biting rebuke. “Well, big shot, you can tear it up. I make the contracts, and you know it.” She sat back from her desk with an air of finality. “That’s all. On the way out tell Mario I want to see him.”
“Just a minute. That Lsn’t all. As far as I’m concerned Janice is okay. If you ask me I think it’s more personal with you than anything else. Just because she doesn’t scare the men away you call her a hussy.”
His words left their traces on her cheeks much as if he had physically slapped her. She got what he was driving at, and for once hé had hit home through that impersonal exterior of hers. He had not thought it possible to hurt her and instead of feeling triumphant about it he felt a quick hurt inside him, too. She looked so terribly alone as she sat behind her desk and silently absorbed the punishment he had handed out. He wanted to go to her and put an arm around her and say, “Look, I’m sorry,” but he couldn’t.
“I’ve got to go back,” he said in a flat voice instead. “You do whatever you want about her.”
BUD AND Janice had their usual table at the Club Bali. They usually turned up there after the Rose Room closed. Now they were having their first dance.
They danced in a close embrace— Janice always made a point of being held tightly. She was dynamite on the dance floor, all warmth and smooth, undulating curves of pagan allure. When he had his arms around her Bud
forgot everything but the beat of his pulses.
When they were back at their table Janice slid her hand into his.
“Listen, honey, I spoke to Chick today, and he wants to know when you’re going to make up your mind about the job at the Embassy-Plaza.” “I don’t know, baby.” Bud shook his head wearily, for they had been over the subject again and again. “I don’t like to break a contract.”
“Oh, now, that’s not your worry,” Janice said insistently. “Chick has lawyers. Let him worry about it. Just give him an okay, that’s all.
Bud ran his hand through his hair. He was confused. All this talk about contracts, all this conniving. Harriet may have been suspicious for she had given him a funny look a couple of times lately. Harriet. . .Since that evening in her office she had never said anything more about Janice, nor done anything about her. She had ignored Janice and had avoided him as much as possible. There had been a time when at least their business relations had been easy and pleasant, a time when he had felt free just to drift into her office without knocking first, as he did now. It was funny about Harriet, how the strain between them took all the fun out of playing at the Morrison. He wanted to get away. Sometimes Bud wished he were back in Mapleville. At least things had been simple there.
“Look, at the Embassy-Plaza every cent you make will be your own. No smart dame will be making a lot of money out of you.” Janice squeezed his hand insinuatingly, and her lips brushed his cheek. “Then we can get married, and team up like Harriet Hilliard and Ozzie Nelson.”
“Sounds swell, baby—but it’s not as simple as that,” said Bud. “You just said she was smart, and you’re right. Her contract with me is ironclad, and no lawyer’s going to break it.” He sensed the impatience that sprang up in Janice, and went on quickly.
“But I’ll talk to her once more. I’ll talk to her tomorrrow.”
“Well, all right. I’ll tell you one thing; I’m not going to stay at the Rose Room forever!” Her eyes narrowed shrewdly. “Tell her we’re going to get married.”
“Why should I do that?” he demanded. “That wouldn’t accomplish anything. This is strictly business.” “Tell her anyhow,” said Janice.
WHEN Bud stopped by Harriet’s office just before rehearsal next morning he had an envelope in his hand and an expression on his face that was at once grave and quizzical. He knocked before he entered, just as he had been doing for the past month. Harriet looked up from a stack of accounts she was checking over and her eyes went on guard.
“Look,” said Harriet, “I heard all about that Embassy-Plaza business. Don’t waste your breath.”
Bud smiled quietly.
“It’s a funny thing, but that’s what I Kad intended to talk to you about. But we don’t need to now.” He held the envelope in his hand out in front of her so that she could see the words, “Selective Service.”
“I think that takes care of everything,” he said, and left the room with the picture of her face suddenly white as she caught her breath. Apparently she didn’t like the idea of losing a
meal ticket, he told himself bitterly.
The gang wasn’t in yet for rehearsal, but Janice was waiting as he had expected.
“Well, how did you make out?” she asked eagerly.
“Well, I guess the Embassy job is out,” he said, smiling.
“Out?” She blazed in sudden fury. “Listen, if that job is out, I’m out! We’re through—finished! I’m sick
of . . .”
“Now, honey, wait a minute.” He took her hands. “I’ve got a better contract.”
Janice’s eyes went wide, and then her hands were soft in his.
“A better contract? Oh, darling— what?” She moved closer. “Don’t mind me—I get excited sometimes. Is there a spot in it for me?”
“I don’t think so.” He took out the envelope and showed it to her. “Looks like we’ll have to get married sooner than we expected.”
Janice didn’t answer right away. She was staring at the envelope with a stunned expression.
“Let’s make it this afternoon,” he said, taking her in his arms.
All at once she tore loose.
“Are you kidding?” she said, and her voice was suddenly harsh and ugly. “Listen, I have a future to think of. I’m going places. I’m going to open at the Embassy with any band Chick puts in there—he told me I could.”
Bud looked at her for a moment and the smile stayed on his face. The amazing part of it all was he wasn’t particularly surprised. He had merely had something verified that he hadn’t even admitted to himself until now.
“Well, I’ll be darned!” he said. “Cast aside like a sucked-out lemon, eh?” He was almost flip. “I think I’m finally doping things out.”
He turned on his heel and left her. There was new resolution in his walk now. He knew where he stood. He was thinking of a white face, a face too white to be blamed on business. This time he wasn’t going to knock; lie was going to walk right in.
When he got to the door, however, he was stopped—stopped by a strange sound, one he never thought he would hear coming from behind that door. He listened, and then he walked in.
Harriet’s head came up from the desk. Her cheeks were wet, and she fumbled helplessly with a handkerchief that was far too small to hide her burning tears. She had never in her life looked so much like a woman.
“I was only trying to protect you from that girl!” she blurted between sobs.
Bud went swiftly around the desk.
“Well, go ahead and protect me,” he said, and she came up into his arms.
Bud Fleming is back in eastern Ontario now—just outside of Mapleville—at a basic training centre. He’s heading up a five-piece combo again, and they play for the boys every night at the Canteen, after their regular chores. Of course, he misses Pete Higgins and Rod Catlett, but the gang he’s got now do all right, and as Bud often says, “The boys love us.”
Harriet, his wife, is staying at the Palace Hotel in Mapleville and they manage to see a good deal of each other. She spends her afternoons having long, amiable arguments with Bert Lamberton, the hotel manager, about how the Palace should be run. She has some great ideas for the place. In fact, she may buy it.